What’s a Marriage Argument All About?

The push for same-sex marriage must surely rank highly in recent history among movements that have doggedly ignored the opposition’s core objection, and last Thursday’s Providence Journal opinion pages encapsulate that myopia nicely. First, an editorial:

… Gays who wed [in California] will help accustom others to this quiet revolution — chiefly by demonstrating that they can be as drained, dulled and divided over housekeeping duties and expenses as anyone else.
Perhaps just as importantly, polls reveal younger Americans as far more accepting than their elders of homosexual relationships. This suggests that, in another generation, much of the fuss will simply wither.
No one would say that marriage is easy. But it affords stability, support and the deep satisfactions that come with commitment. It is also a fine foundation for nurturing families. That people have been denied the privileges of marriage because of their sexual orientation is both sad and unjust.

If only the most astonishing blind spot of these sentences were the assertion that this hugely controversialist, desperately in-your-face movement could conceivably be called a “quiet revolution.” Of course, the phrase fits the fantasy that same-sex marriage supporters like to foster for themselves: that the advocates for this radical change are forwarding their goals mainly via righteous living, while the reactionary army shrieks and throws every conceivable social and governmental weapon at the growing inevitability.
No, what stuns is the nonchalance with which the editorial writer tags the essential historical and cultural component of marriage on as an addendum: “It is also a fine foundation for nurturing families.” You know, not the ideal. Not even a highly advisable family structure. Just a “fine” setting.
At least Froma Harrop, writing on the opposite page, allows that “a stable marriage is the ideal institution for raising children.” Unfortunately, she makes that point as a concession on her way toward the dismissive assertion that “we already have tax benefits focused on parents” — as if the tax code matches the culture in power to persuade. As if a few extra dollars come April balances a general sense — so affirmed as to be a matter of culture and law — that marriage is about families and children and constitutes such a unique and valuable institution that it is raised up at least beyond the level of buying a sawzall as an investment toward a career in carpentry.
Instead, Harrop uses the civil rights claims in Britain’s sister-partner suit to eviscerate marriage into related taxable categories:

… they brought their case before the European Court of Human Rights. There they demanded the same tax benefits now afforded married gay as well as hetero couples in Europe. The court turned them down, arguing that their relationship was of a different nature than that of married people. Now what could that different nature be other than the presumption of sexual contact? By the way, do the English taxing authorities know whether a married couple is having sex?
Back in this country, 7 percent of respondents to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they had gotten married to obtain health insurance through their spouse’s plan. “Medically covered” should become a category on the dating sites.
It’s easy to understand why gay people would want to get in on the marriage gravy train. There’s just no logic for there being one. A stable marriage is the ideal institution for raising children, but we already have tax benefits focused on parents. Given the growing percentage of unmarried adult Americans, the whole obsession with same-sex marriage has become rather dated.

In her hoity ennui, Harrop has dubbed the radical movement as dated, providing evidence and instance, in the process, of an argument that I’ve been making for years on the marriage issue: If marriage is not about the one thing that only one man and one woman can do in combination, then there’s really no grounds for allotting government benediction on the basis of intimacy.
So, Froma goes on to illustrate for all who wonder how same-sex marriage could affect the broader institution the mechanism by which the intrinsic logic of the movement proceeds to do just that. Let people define their romantic relationships as their preference and religion may suggest, but as for a consensus understanding of the institution of marriage, well, hey, there are tax breaks for parents, and there are prisons and (someday again, perhaps) workhouses for those children who might otherwise have benefited from a culture that allowed marriage to do what millennia had — until recently — honed it to do in Western society.
I know, I know, my notions of marriage are “dated.” And one can have little doubt that, should the Harrops of the West ever have a fleeting pang of awareness of the damage that their casual revolution will have wrought, they’ll persuade themselves that guilt and culpability are equally passé.

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Phil
Phil
12 years ago

I just finished reading Pat Crowley’s letter to the editor in this morning’s Providence Journal and the Editor’s note caught my attention revealing that the Education Partnership’s Valerie Forti is married to The Journal’s Edward Achorn. I suppose its what Pat refered to as the “special relationship” that exists between the two organizations. I’m thinking more that that coupling is closer to the TV show M*A*S*H ‘s characters Major Houlihan and Frank Burns.

Greg
Greg
12 years ago

Does it really bug you that bad that the queers will get to marry? Why? My marriage doesn’t suffer one iota.
In a generation your arguments will ring as hollow as those that allowed the black man to count as 3/5ths of a human and said that women weren’t sophisticated enough to vote.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

It’s not about what “bugs” me, Greg, it’s about what I believe the underlying assumptions of the radical movement are and what the consequences will be. My conclusions are certainly open to debate, but you (and almost all of the people who take your side on this) don’t even try, opting instead to make unknowable declarations founded in personal inclination and emotional preferences.
In a generation (or two; you’re awfully generous about the rate of change) after its enactment, same-sex marriage will have, one way or another, undermined the institution of marriage (note that your not-one-iota-affected marriage can’t live beyond your lifetime), with all of the consequences of its loss.

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

For all the dustups I’ve had with Greg here, I agree with him solidly on this one.
Also, be kind to Fro – she’s a very, very disgruntled and bitter Hillaryite these days.

Greg
Greg
12 years ago

So the argument is “God doesn’t like it?” because I think God is against meat on Fridays and masturbation, too. Nobody’s seen hide nor hair of him in over 2,000 years, either. Unless he wants to make his opinion known on this, I consider him an absentee landlord and not worthy of my concern. I just see people, regular people, who aren’t getting the rights they deserve because they have sex differently than you and I do.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Who entered God into the argument?
I see people, too, Greg, but the sex that they have is intrinsically different in one key way, and that way is inseparable from the necessary meaning of marriage. If the differing consequences of the differing types of sex are immaterial, why ought the presumption of sex be of concern, at all? Refer back to Harrop for the next step of the argument.

Greg
Greg
12 years ago

My wife and I can’t naturally have kids. Does that mean we’re not truly married? When 75 year old people get married to each other, they don’t intend to have children. Are they not truly married?
Since when was the bond of marriage “To have and to hold and to make babies”?
All I have to do is wait because, to quoth Steve Laffey “…those people are dying off…” and eventually there will only be people who look back at your view and see it as archaic, biased, and fundamentally wrong-headed.
Why can’t we just call it like it is? You’re anti-gay. It’s ok. As the Dem primary has shown us, there are plenty of racists and bigots and misogynists out there. It’s alright to not like gay people and to want to punish them for their ‘evil’ ways. But just like there were people fighting for blacks to not have to suffer the indignity of the separate water fountain there will be those of us that will fight for equality across sexual preferences.

Citizen Critic
Citizen Critic
12 years ago

Lots of married people don’t have kids, so that is not the sole purpose of marriage.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there are very compelling health reasons to allow gay marriage. There is no social structure in the gay community. Having a different gay lover literally every night is not unusual. The average gay AIDS patient has had 1,100 lifetime sexual partners. Think deeply about that! If you don’t believe this lack of stability in the gay community is healthy for society, maybe you want to rethink the incentives that we offer to gays.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
12 years ago

–Lots of married people don’t have kids, so that is not the sole purpose of marriage. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there are very compelling health reasons to allow gay marriage. There is no social structure in the gay community. Having a different gay lover literally every night is not unusual. The average gay AIDS patient has had 1,100 lifetime sexual partners. Think deeply about that! If you don’t believe this lack of stability in the gay community is healthy for society, maybe you want to rethink the incentives that we offer to gays.
As if homosexual marriage is going to change that behavior???
The push for homosexual marriage has nothing to do with bringing order to “gay society.” Ultimately it isn’t even about marriage, for that matter.
It is a political ploy, one segment of an overall political / special interest movement attempting to “normalize” homosexuality.
The intent is to have society equate homosexuality as being the same as, as equivalent to, heterosexuality. This is a fiction.
Homosexuality is a biological abnormality. It is not, and can never be, normal. Heterosexuality is the biological norm.
Get over it.

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

It used to be that ‘phobes (excuse me, people who don’t like homosexuality) could justify their position by saying “Oh, gays are a bunch of rowdy, rutting nonentities with no sense of commitment whatsoever.”
Things have changed. Gays are just as interested in commitment as we breeders. But the people who don’t like homosexuality just cling to the old stereotypes and squeal like a pig when society attempts to progress. They can’t get over it.

John in Foster
John in Foster
12 years ago

Justin
Thanks for the reminder.We are sending a check to Marriage Equality RI today
John and Sara
Foster RI

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

Well played, John and Sara.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Look, I understand that it strokes folks’ moral vanity to feel that they’re ahead of the curve on the Next Big Civil Rights Issue, and what could give a more righteous hard-on than believing that the radical change that you’re supporting will have no adverse consequences? It’s a nice black-and-white world in which to live, and I don’t begrudge you your indulgence.
I don’t understand, however, why y’all think it’s some sort of jibe at me that “all [you] have to do is wait,” or that you’re donating money to your cause. Neither my personal identity of sense of my society is bound up with the outcome of this matter. It’s just a topic in which I took an intellectual interest some years back, and about which I’ve come to strong conclusions. If my arguments don’t persuade enough people, well then, that’s just one more slip in the gradual decline of our culture.
To address the one bit of substance offered in reply: that an infertile couple can be fully married in society’s eyes does not mean that marriage is not intrinsically related to mothers and fathers having children. For one thing, a very small percentage of couples actually proves sterile.
More generally, the near complete correlation of heterosexual sex with an ability to create children (especially when considered by the measure of relationships that are meant to be lifelong) allows the rule of opposite sexes to strike a balance between social meddling and social statements of principle. It would be a prohibitive burden, that is, to require tests of fertility for marriage, and the titles of Mr. and Mrs. don’t negate the possibility (still probability) that there is or will be a biological Jr.

David
David
12 years ago

You said: If my arguments don’t persuade enough people, well then, that’s just one more slip in the gradual decline of our culture.
What? Are you King of the Universe?
Get a grip – take a walk around the block.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

Justin,
What Chutzpa! David hit the nail on the head. you should take a cold shower and express some humility. F*&^%ck your opinions.
OldTimeLefty

Justin Katz
12 years ago

There’s no chutzpah. It is my opinion that undermining the institution of marriage will substantially harm our society. Note the specificity: the subject of my suggestion is the undermining of marriage, not the equitable treatment of homosexuals.
I would have thought any person of moderate intelligence or above could have understood this, but it is not a failure to follow my advice, per se, that brings decline, but the actions taken. Of course, y’all are so full of hate that I expect no further success in explaining such concepts to you.

Greg
Greg
12 years ago

I’ve been noticing Massachusetts rapid cultural decline since they legalized gay marriage. Sodomy in the streets. Thousands of “His and His” wedding stores. The whole state now resembles Provincetown with men in dresses parading to and fro. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria indeed.
/sarcasm

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

And many folks who complain about Rhode Island’s economic problems would love to move to Massachusetts.
And I’d bet some of them are conservatives, too.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

Justin,
You said, “If my arguments don’t persuade enough people, well then, that’s just one more slip in the gradual decline of our culture.”
You jumped from “your” argument, a personally held opinion, to a universal conclusion that the culture would “slip” in some undefined way.
You conflate your opinion (as mighty or as puny as it might be) with a self serving and self styled and highly debatable proposition which you call a truth….I’d call that chutzpah in spades.
You then resort to a cheap rhetorical trick by saying, “Note the specificity: the subject of my suggestion is the undermining of marriage, not the equitable treatment of homosexuals.” Neither David’s post nor mine made any reference to homosexuals or their treatment. You drag them into the argument, then claim foul by saying that you never mentioned them.
Quite an impressive tap dance. You could add a top hat, tails and a cane and see if Trinity Rep. would be interested in staging it.
OldTimeLefty

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

OldTimeLefty
Well said
You are one of our favorites
Sara and John
Foster RI

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Greg.
Well, yeah, I guess I didn’t consider that a limited experiment in what would be a major cultural shift on a larger scale would yield actionable results in just a few years.
/sarcasm

Justin Katz
12 years ago

OTL. As I suggested above, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort, but just to pierce the warm hum of your echo chamber, I’ll attempt a reply. No tap dancing — just explanation. You jumped from “your” argument, a personally held opinion, to a universal conclusion that the culture would “slip” in some undefined way. If I allow the possibility that this sentence is something more substantial than a gleeful attempt at “gotcha” rhetoric, then it seems to me that only somebody who has skipped all of the prior discussion could possibly have missed: 1) the definition of the asserted slip: Redefining marriage such that it can incorporate same-sex couples as intrinsic to its meaning will undermine the institution. That a strong culture of marriage is critical to the health of our society. That diminishing something that’s critical to the health of our society contributes to its decline. You can argue these statements, if you like, but unless you’re willing to cede poor reading comprehension, I don’t think you can deny that any fair reading leaves any doubt that this is what I mean by “slip.” 2) The plain and obvious point that I was contextualizing my personal investment in the issue: If I fail in my attempts to convince people of my conclusions, then the outcome will merely be another instance of society decline over which I have limited power. There’s no king complex. That was what I was saying. You then resort to a cheap rhetorical trick by saying, “Note the specificity: the subject of my suggestion is the undermining of marriage, not the equitable treatment of homosexuals.” Neither David’s post nor mine made any reference to homosexuals or their treatment. You drag them into the argument, then claim foul by saying that you never mentioned them. The… Read more »

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

Justin,
Who are you, Mussolini? What Chutzpah, telling me that since your last post has cleared up the matter I may now proceed in one of two ways which you then define for me. It’s a tired, cheap assed rhetorical trick to drag in a straw man argument, then argue against it rather than take on the actual proposition… You seem to love straw man arguments, perhaps because it’s so easy for you to argue against yourself. Let’s remember that you said, “If my arguments don’t persuade enough people, well then, that’s just one more slip in the gradual decline of our culture.” I didn’t.
Wiggle, wiggle little star, Thinking half thoughts from afar.
OTL

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Fine, you went with option number 3:
3. Continue to avoid the substantive conversation by treating the conversation as a delibration on my rhetorical strategy.
That being your choice, I’ll leave you to your echo chamber. Feel free to invite me back in with a comment on the topic of this post that’s worth responding to.

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

Forget it, OTL. You’re gargling on the same vinegar I have to attempting to have a rational discussion on this particular issue with this particular individual.
Flick that dustspeck off your lapel and move on.

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